I’ve spent the last 2 mornings at what has quickly become my favourite place in Kathmandu. Where it is doesn’t matter, and truth be known I’m not sure it’s the kind of place that would benefit by being over-run with photographers. In broad strokes it’s a place where people go to spend their last days.
I hesitated to go in, and when I did, was told by a very severe-looking bureaucrat at the office that it would be best not to photograph. As always, I respected this. For a while. And then I began to meet the residents, hold their hands, watch the fire in their old eyes, and everything in me told me to quietly shoot, that photographing these old souls would be the best way I could communicate with them. Moreover, their body language begged me to do so. So I spent a couple hours with them, both yesterday and today. I photographed some of them, printed their images for them, and watched the joy on their faces. But mostly I just spent time with them, held their hands, listened to them babble away in Nepali. It did not, I think, expand my portfolio much, but it expanded my spirit immensely.
In all of this I met an older photographer from the UK. His name, too, is David. David is older than old school – shoots with a broken Nikon FE2, now stuck at 1/250, and no-name film. He’s roughly shaven, carries his kit in a crappy shoulder bag and his camera hangs from a leather shoe-string. He has nothing about him that marks him as a “real photographer.” But to see him with these old Nepalis, to see him greet them and meet the sparkle in their eyes with the one in his, and to see him photograph them – it’s like a dance, graceful and kind, and in those moments I watched this, nothing else about my craft mattered – all the rhetoric about which lens is better, which camera bag to use, or whether Lightroom trumps Aperture…none of it meant anything. I felt like I was in the presence of a master.
Meanwhile tourists were coming in, looking at the old people, snapping photos and rushing off to see more interesting things, and the often predatory hazard of this craft came rushing back to me and made me angry. Made me want to chase after these people, take their cameras from them and not give them back until they’d spent some time with the residents, done more than looked at them, but truly seen them. Presumptuous indignation, I know, but that’s how I felt.
Now, I don’t know what David’s images look like, but that’s very much not the point – the point is that he’s found something greater than the image itself – he’s found such joy in the moment of creating that image that I suspect if he ran out of film tomorrow, the bloke would just keep shooting all the same.
Sounds daft, I know, but if you could have seen it…you’d wish every photographer on earth could spend a day with him, and then a day with these truly beautiful people.
I’m not publishing the images from this trip, they’re for another project entirely, but the image above is one of the ones that hit the cutting room floor this afternoon, so I’m using it to illustrate this post. The woman in red is one of the many beautiful women I’d love to adopt and take home with me. That they spend their days here with no one other than their peers to love them is tragic.
Exif: 85/1.2L at f/3.2, 1/320, iso 200.